A new study exploring pregnancy after the loss of a baby has found differences between women and men in how to approach having another child, with men possibly more likely to want to wait for longer periods.
The in-depth study by researchers at UCC was based on interviews with eight couples in the immediate pregnancy after stillbirth, and is the first of its kind to interview couples together.
Findings included that "the experiences of trying to conceive after stillbirth impacted the couples' relationships" and that "sexual intercourse often became less about emotional connection and more about a means to achieve a pregnancy."
The majority of couples who experience a stillbirth will achieve a subsequent pregnancy within 12 months and from the interviews conducted for the study the main theme was "hoping for a born alive baby."
"Deciding to get pregnant following a stillbirth was not undertaken lightly," it said. "How couples negotiated the decision to get pregnant again, varied upon the individual couple’s circumstances including their experiences of stillbirth, for example, whether their pregnancy was complicated by a fatal foetal anomaly or was an unexpected death and was a theme explored by all couples."
Those couples who were told their babies had a life-limiting condition tended to wait longer to get pregnant again.
"The need to remember the deceased baby and their relationship with them was articulated by couples and for some, especially men, this influenced their decisions when to consider a new pregnancy in their lives," it said.
"Some men viewed a subsequent pregnancy as a means by which their partner’s grief could be ameliorated."
One women said "there was a realisation that they could be ‘like this forever’ in grief and there did not appear to be any point in postponing the decision any further."
One of the authors of the study, Margaret Murphy, said: "It's the first time couples have been interviewed together about their experiences and previous research looking at pregnancy after loss would — and rightly so — have often looked at and spoken to women, and where men's stories have been included it's often through the lens of their partner's experiences."
"That is not to say that men don't grieve and feel the loss very deeply, they do, but their experiences of loss can be quite different, and certainly the timelines are very different to women's."
According to the study: "Gender differences may be explained by the desire of men to fully parent the baby who died before reaching a decision about a subsequent pregnancy. All men reported their partners knew the deceased baby more than they did and that they needed more time to get to know their baby after birth. Men said that the immediate time after loss, was their only time to get to know their deceased baby."
Ms Murphy, of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at University College Cork, said women's biological attachment to the foetus happened at a much faster pace than for men, who often don't feel the same level of attachment until "they can hold that child as an 'outside' baby".
"We need to break the silence and we need to talk and that this should become part of normal pregnancy care — [as well as ] the things that they [women] can do to minimise their risk of pregnancy loss, and we need to encourage women and men to share their stories of their babies and we as a society need to bear witness to those stories and that's why there was so much public outcry about the Mother and Baby Homes, I feel."
*Trying to conceive: An interpretive phenomenological analysis of couples’ experiences of pregnancy after stillbirth, is published in the Women and Birth journal at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1871519220303735?dgcid=author